Sparta is the city in Central Tennessee closest to where bluegrass legend Lester Flatt was born in 1914. Located 95 miles east of Nashville, it remains a small southern town with a population of around 5,000 people, and they are plenty proud of their native son.
Each year Sparta hosts a Lester Flatt celebration in the late summer, and this year – for a 100th birthday bash – they unveiled an historical marker to honor Lester and his contributions to bluegrass and country music.
The marker will soon be installed on Highway 70 just west of town, at the Oaklawn Cemetery entrance where Lester is buried.
The text of the marker reads…
A beloved performer and prime contributor to bluegrass music, Sparta, TN native Lester Flatt was born in Overton County, the son of a share cropper, and was playing guitar and mandolin by the age of seven. He worked in textile and saw mills and performed in several country bands before making his radio debut in 1939, then made a strong impression as a singer in Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Pardners. In 1945, Lester joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys as lead singer and guitar player, playing a central role in the classic, genre-defining band with his warm vocals, steady guitar work, and famed “g-run” fills and also with his songwriting – his fame growing through the band’s Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, recordings and appearances.
In 1948, Lester and banjo innovator Earl Scruggs left Bill Monroe’s band and formed Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, which became the most successful bluegrass band of its era. Over the next 21 years, with Lester as lead vocalist and charming emcee, Flatt & Scruggs brought groundbreaking music to millions through regional and national television, hit recordings and appearances at festivals and on college campuses. From 1969 until the end of his life, Lester fronted his own band, the Nashville Grass, as a standard bearer for traditional bluegrass. Flatt & Scruggs were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985, and into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1991. Lester was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.
A fitting tribute to the great Lester Flatt. Well done, Sparta!